As some of of you know, Christmas Eve is my major holiday. More than Christmas Day and certainly more than any of the others. For years and years, more than thirty, we have hosted a large Christmas Eve party, and the preparations and shopping and cooking are filled with tradition and some new twists each year. When my daughters were small, the day was mostly about trying to keep them sort of contained. Their excitement was beyond bounds, and there were inevitable meltdowns along with the constant "What time is it?" and "how much longer?" kind of questions. My mother always took them to the Children's' Christmas Eve service, and when she arrived to pick them up, around 4:30, I would take a major sigh of relief and pour a glass of wine.By then, the work was mostly done, the shopping completed, and the holiday could begin.
For a long time, we sat around the dining table. Again, when my girls were little, it was one of the few times that I went all out for an elegant meal. In the early days, my mother paid for the filet as her contribution, and was much more helpful than her less than good cooking would have been. As time passed, our crowd outgrew the capacity of the dining table, and we moved towards a buffet.
Other than myself and my younger daughter, I don't think there is anyone who has been here every single year. My older daughter and her family were here from MN for Thanksgiving, and were here last year for Christmas. Dear friends have sometimes been away visiting family. My husband's children joined after he and I were a couple, so they missed the early years and sometimes are elsewhere. There have been losses, and those presences of absences are very real tonight. My mother read Why the Chimes Rang each year, and I have not been able to carry on that tradition (they were willing to sit still for her, not for me). We will miss her and others; I hold them close in my heart.
This year we welcome a few new friends to the festivities, and, since it is also the first night of Hanukkah, there is a menorah on the table next to the gingerbread house. And, for the first time, I have made a potato kugel; although I am a good cook, this was new to me, and I called a friend for some cooking advice. Honestly I suspect that the mashed potatoes with lots of butter and sour cream will be better, but I could be wrong.
About half of us will go caroling, a wonderful town tradition. We gather around the town center Christmas tree; depending on the weather, there could be 100 or 500 people. There are dogs with red bows and reindeer antlers and babies in slings and lots of over-excited children. There is a leader who stands on a stool and tries vainly to have people sing together. We sing with enthusiasm, and I always tear up when we come to the chorus of Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel" as it was my father's favorite, and I can almost feel his arm around my shoulder.
After the singing, and it never lasts more than 15 minutes, we come home to rejoin those who chose to stay here to eat and drink, and lay out the feast. And a feast it is.
I will look around at those whom I love and give thanks for them. And thanks for another year of health. And I will remember so many whom I have known and loved and lost, and will raise a glass for them, too.
Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to us all.